A while back we chatted with akirchner about copyright issues involving the use of others’ images, charts, and graphs, but we have not recently touched on the process of protecting your own work. As disagreeable as it may sound, there are people out there who may copy things you have written in your Hubs and publish them elsewhere online under their own names. Thankfully, you have a right to stop them from doing so, and there are methods by which you can monitor your work to check and see if any of it has been copied without your permission.
Edweirdo has taken a particular interest in this subject – enough to actually create an online tool called the HubDefender. Below, Edweirdo has kindly taken the time to discuss the issue of personal copyright protection with us. Enjoy!
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HubPages: A lot of Hubbers are unfamiliar with the rights they have to their work?
Edweirdo: It is a sad but true fact that so many people, not just Hubbers, do not understand the rights they have when they publish something online – be it words, pictures, videos or anything else.
Far too many people believe that once something is published online, it becomes public domain and can be used by everyone and anyone, for whatever purposes they wish. This is exactly the opposite of the truth!
There are two essential concepts that all online content creators (including HubPages authors) need to know when it comes to copyright protection: 1) According to U.S. and international law under the Berne Convention, every creative work is copyrighted upon its creation – you do NOT have to register a copyright with the government or anyone else in order to be protected, and 2) All of an author’s rights are reserved unless the author explicitly authorizes use of their work.
What are the downsides of having one’s work copied by someone else online?
There are at least two significant downsides to having your work copied (I would go far as to say “stolen”). First, it feels awful. We put a lot of effort into creating our Hubs, and to have someone else take that work feels like a violation – and it literally is a violation of our rights. Secondly, and most importantly for those of us who want to earn an income from our online work, you can end up in a position where someone else is making money from your work.
It is not very difficult for someone else to steal something you’ve written and republish it somewhere else. And if they know what they are doing, they can easily manage to have their copy of your work appear on the first page of Google search results – higher in the results than your original work – and now the thief is earning money from your writing that should be going to you!
There’s also the infamous “Google duplicate penalty”, which may or may not exist (only Google knows for sure!).
When it comes to indexing things on the Internet, Google prefers original content. When the same article appears in multiple places around the Web, that content – in all of its locations – can be devalued. This would hurt your original work’s potential to rise to the top of Google search results.
When was the first time you noticed your work on HubPages had been copied? How did you find out? What did you do? And what was the result?
My first experience with content theft occurred just two months after I started writing at HubPages. I found a comment on one of my Hubs from fellow Hubber “englightenedsoul”, letting me know that my Hub had been copied on Blogger. She had read in the HubPages forums about a content thief, and while looking to see if her own work had been copied, she coincidentally recognized a Hub of mine that she had recently read.
I felt sick when I followed the link to the coped content! It included my entire Hub, copied word for word, plus all of my original images. The thief had built an entire blog using stolen content, mostly from HubPages, and had included Google Adsense ads on the blog.
This was my first experience with a content thief, so I didn’t know what to do! I turned to the HubPages forums and learned how to report copied content to Google Adsense – on every Adsense ad there is a little question mark icon and/or the words “Ads by Google” in the lower right corner, and clicking on it takes you to Google’s page for reporting abuse. I used that link to report the thief to Google, and the site was quickly taken down.
I felt a feeling of accomplishment and righteousness that almost made up for that initial feeling of violation, but I was still angry! Why did I only find out about this from a fellow Hubber who 1) coincidentally had read my hub and 2) was kind enough to let me know about it?
You’ve created a service to help people find if any of their Hubs have been copied – what inspired you to create it? And how does it compare to the other resources out there that allow Hubbers to check to see if their work has been copied?
I was reading the forums one day and I saw a post form “thisisoli”, who is the constant victim of thieves, and who posts amusing stories about the take-down requests that he files to have duplicate content removed. I posted on one of these threads and asked him if there was a tool that he used to find duplicates.
Turns out he didn’t know of any such tool, but instead he took time out of his schedule every month and manually entered lines from his Hubs into Google to look for duplicates. When he found copies, he then took the necessary steps to have them removed…
I was shocked to realize that there was so much effort involved in something that seemed like it should be so simple! I figured there had to be an easier way to do this, so I started looking for one. I was able to find two services online that could help, but they both had significant drawbacks.
First I found Google Alerts – this is a free service from Google that allows you to store Internet searches and have Google send you an email whenever new results for that search appear online. By copying a sentence from your Hub and enclosing it in quotes, you can get an alert from Google if that exact sentence ever appears elsewhere online. But what if a thief steals your Hub, but leaves out or rewrites the paragraph that contains the line that you randomly chose to monitor?
The other resource I found was Copyscape. They have a more robust service – you can provide the URLs of the articles that you want to monitor, and they will automatically search the Internet on a regular basis to find duplicates. I looked a little deeper and found the price for a membership – their lowest priced automated search service would cost me $20 a month for just 65 Hubs – more than I was even earning from my Hubs at the time!
As a lifelong computer geek and former professional programmer, my wheels started to turn! The people stealing content were most likely using a text-scraping tool to copy our Hubs, so why couldn’t I do the same thing? But instead of turning around and publishing that content, I could use it to feed a program that could run searches for the text – if it appeared anywhere but HubPages, then it was a copy!
That simple flash of inspiration turned into a four-month-long development marathon. As these things usually do, it turned out to be a LOT more complex than it seemed at first, but I kept at it and eventually I had HubDefender up and running! I came up with a price structure that was much more affordable than Copyscape, even for Hubbers who are only making a small amount of money from their Hubs.
HubDefender uses a resource-intensive process to searche every sentence of a Hub, and it costs money to run such a service. My goal with HubDefender was never to get rich, and I never wanted to take advantage of my fellow Hubbers, so I decided upon a price that is high enough to keep HubDefender self-sufficient, but low enough to be affordable for most Hubbers.
Over time I’ve also added some handy tools to the site. There is a U.S. law in place called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA, that defines a specific process for dealing with copyright infringement. When I started writing DMCA requests, I had no idea how to proceed, and I could not find an easy-to-use template for creating one. So, naturally, I created one for HubDefender! When a user needs to file a DMCA request, or even a simple “Cease & Desist” notice, they simply click on a link from their account to generate one with all of the required information in the correct format. The tool even helps users figure out where exactly to email the request.
Could you recommend a basic anti-copyright-infringement routine that the everyday Hubber could adopt? What sorts of things should we do on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis?
The very first thing I would recommend is to let potential thieves know that you know your rights! Even though we are automatically protected by copyright from the moment we create our work, and even though HubPages clearly states on every page that our work is copyrighted, I would still recommend adding a clear and explicit copyright notice to every hub. I add one at the end of each of mine, right before the comments capsule, that simply reads “Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.” A thief intent on stealing your work won’t be deterred, but an amateur who thinks everything online is free and up for grabs might think twice before copying a hub.
I also think it’s important for us as Hubbers to honor other people’s copyrights. I frequently see instances of Hubbers using images they find online without giving credit to the source of those photos. Every Hubber should know how to 1) find images on the Web that can legally be used and 2) how to legally use them in their hubs. Stealing someone else’s photo without their permission is exactly the same as someone else stealing one of our hubs! I even wrote a pretty popular hub on this subject for those who want to learn the right way to go about it, called “How To Legally Use Images From The Web In Your Hubs”, and the new HubPages photo capsule makes giving proper attribution easy!
When it comes to a basic anti-copyright-infringement routine, I would recommend using HubDefender! Not to toot my horn, but it really is the most affordable way to protect your copyright on HubPages.
If someone really can’t pay for a duplicate content detection service, then there are two free choices – manually search for duplicate content at least once a month, or set up Google Alerts for every one your hubs.
No offense to HubPages, but Hubbers should not rely solely on the built-in duplicate filter to alert them to copied content. As I stated earlier, I have had many of my hubs copied over the past year, and I have never received a notification from HubPages about the copies. HubPages already does so much for its members without charging us a cent, so to expect them to go to the added expense of rigorous duplicate content detection may be asking too much!
Thanks so much for this opportunity to share HubDefender with my fellow Hubbers!
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For more information on what to do when you find out that your writing has been copied, check out our Learning Center guide on how to file a DMCA complaint.